Disaster and Heroism

Shlomo Brand, of our town, was one of the leaders of the fighters for freedom at the Wilno ghetto. Eng and I asked him to admit us into his classes for training young men and women in the art of warfare. This, of course, was done deep in the woods. The military training was conducted under terrible conditions.

We were handicapped by physical weakness induced by prolonged undernourishment in the ghetto. It was raining almost continuously, and ever so often we used to wake up in the mornings in puddle of water. Disease was rampant, and a good many of our comrades became dispirited. Unluckily, my friend Eng was also among those who lost heart. He tried to persuade me to leave together with him. I naturally refused, and he left us, never to be seen again. 

This was the period of the partisan guerilla group which multiplied and spread. We bore our misfortunes with fortitude, but there is no denying that moments of despondency and despair were not lacking. 

When winter approached, we moved to upper ground to get out of the marshy area. Our supply lines were steadily improving, although it was not easy to induce the farmers to hand out food and other supplies merely against our receipt, promising payment after victory was achieved. Securing supplies, however, was often more than a matter of persuading reluctant peasants. One such operation I remember most vividly. A detachment, of company strength, under the command of Shlomo Brand, started out at dusk on a wintry day to forage for supplies at a "rich" village, near the town of Ishishok, which we reached towards midnight. We posted guards on both sides of the village, and I, together with my men, entered the first farmhouse. When the owner saw us, he crossed himself and exclaimed: "You have fallen straight into the lion's mouth!" It transpired that considerable German forces were stationed about a mile off. 

Despite the imminent danger, however, we worked feverishly the night through collecting food, and were ready to retrace our steps when dawn broke, Shlomo and 20 of his men stayed behind to protect our rear, and we started out in our sleighs. But Shlomo's group was caught in an ambush, and only after a fierce fight, which cost us three dead, did we succeed in reaching the shelter of the woods. We also managed to save the major part of the supplies. 

This was by no means an isolated incident. Again and again Shlomo carried out daring actions which won the admiration of the Partisans leaders. When the second guerilla army moved, Shlomo was appointed its commander until the final liberation of Poland. We, the Jewish fighters, were faced by a problem all our own. A good many elderly Jews, with women and children, fleeing from terror of the ghettos, joined us. Our gentile friends and commanders were in a serious quandary, as the presence of these non-fighters was highly undesirable and constituted a real danger. But we managed somehow to keep them. 

We succeeded in wresting considerable quantities of arms and ammunition from villages which collaborated with the German and were supplied with arms by them. Punitive measures were undertaken against collaborators; and one village which was notorious of its hostility to the Jews was burned down completely. At a later stage we received arms by air from the advancing Soviet troops. This enabled us to undertake more daring operations against the Germans. An open action between us and an armored column on the Grodno-Wilno highway resulted in the Germans' complete rout, and considerable booty fell into our hands. 

In spring of 1944, the Russians prepared a gigantic attack in the north, and we redoubled our efforts in rear. We devoted special attention to the mining of trains and railway bridges. This forced the Germans to keep strong forces in the rear and facilitated the Russian advance. Naturally, hundreds of Jewish comrades lost their lives in these operations; but they avenged in some measure their brethren who had been exterminated. Blessed be their memory. 
In July 1944 we took part in the battle for Wilno. We happened to meet there the well-known writer, Ilya Ehrenburg, who told us that he intended to write a book about the partisans. In February 1945 I returned to Hrubieszow, only to find it occupied by gentiles. Just a few of the old residents remained alive. 

When we heard about the Jewish Brigade, a number of us, under the banner of Kibbutz Dror, managed to sail in the immigrant ship "Nissionot". We evaded the British guards, and landed safely in Palestine on Caesarea coat.